Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Book Review - To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder, by Nancy Rommelmann

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

An estimated five hundred children are killed by their parents each year in the United States, according to homicide data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This number has been static for decades. It is also unreliable and certainly low. The picture of parents killing their children is anathema to most people and makes us susceptible to seeing even the suspicious death of a child explained away: the infant died in her sleep, the child struck his head falling off the coffee table, and who are you to say it did not happen this way? Unless a filicide, the killing of a child by a parent or stepparent, is committed in public, we may not hear about it at all, the circumstances of anonymous people killing their kids too tawdry, too sad, too somehow private to report on. The news you read this week is unlikely to include ten children being murdered by their parents.

But ten were murdered, at least ten. The murdered children of the last week of June 2017 included a six-month-old in Fresno (June 23); a two-month-old in Hanford, CA (June 23); a two-year-old in Houston (June 24); a one-month-old in Terra Bella, CA (June 24); a two-month-old in Valdosta, GA (June 24); a four-year-old in Tullahoma, TN (June 28); a two-year-old and a six-month-old in Paron, AR(June 28); a three-year-old in Rancho Cordova, CA (June 28); and a three-year-old in Chandler, AZ (June 30).


Any story of a parent killing their own children is jarring and hard to process. To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder by Nancy Rommelmann was no different. Ms Rommelmann did an excellent job of telling a lot of Amanda Jo Stott-Smith’s story of her life with her husband Jason, and the circumstances surrounding her despicable act of throwing two of her children off of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon in the dead of the night.

Book Review - To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and Murder, by Nancy Rommelmann
Official Synopsis: The case was closed, but for journalist Nancy Rommelmann, the mystery remained: What made a mother want to murder her own children?

On May 23, 2009, Amanda Stott-Smith drove to the middle of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and dropped her two children into the Willamette River. Forty minutes later, rescuers found the body of four-year-old Eldon. Miraculously, his seven-year-old sister, Trinity, was saved. As the public cried out for blood, Amanda was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison.

Embarking on a seven-year quest for the truth, Rommelmann traced the roots of Amanda’s fury and desperation through thousands of pages of records, withheld documents, meetings with lawyers and convicts, and interviews with friends and family who felt shocked, confused, and emotionally swindled by a woman whose entire life was now defined by an unspeakable crime. At the heart of that crime: a tempestuous marriage, a family on the fast track to self-destruction, and a myriad of secrets and lies as dark and turbulent as the Willamette River.


This was a very unique book, at least among those I’ve read. The author’s interest in the topic and the specific story was clear – she wanted to understand, and help us understand, that which can never be fully understood. But by researching more than a court requires, and more than a reporter filling a headline story has time for, she provided so much more reasoning behind an action that can never be understood with logic.

Amazingly, the background story didn’t start revealing much until after a plea and sentence were issued, and a trial was avoided. People familiar with the family didn’t speak up when they might have been subpoenaed, but still wanted their opinion of the defendant, her husband, and their relationship to be known. While a story about a woman attempting to kill two of her children doesn’t sound like something with more than one side, the author did a wonderful job of showing some of the complexities of the relationships that led to a desperate woman’s unthinkable act.

Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. While the subject matter was frequently alarming, the telling of it was compelling and I find myself still wondering what became of some of the people talked about in the book.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is mostly an introvert, who loves hearing the stories people have to tell. She tells bits and pieces of her story at SweetlyBSquared.com.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Quick pick book review: Vox, by Christina Dalcher

  • Opening lines: If anyone told me I could bring down the president, and the Pure Movement, and that incompetent little shit Morgan LeBron in a week's time, I wouldn't believe them. But I wouldn't argue. I wouldn't say a thing.

    I've become a woman of few words.

    Tonight at supper, before I speak my final syllables of the day, Patrick reaches over and taps the silver-toned device around my left wrist. It's a light touch, as if he were sharing the pain, or perhaps reminding me to stay quiet until the counter resets itself at midnight. This magic will happen while I sleep, and I'll begin Tuesday with a virgin slate. My daughter, Sonia's, counter will do the same.

    My boys do not wear word counters.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I had heard about Vox when I saw another friend reading it, and it looked really good - I love dystopian literature. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • Set in an America where half the population has been silenced, VOX is the harrowing, unforgettable story of what one woman will do to protect herself and her daughter.

    On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can't happen here. Not in America. Not to her.

    This is just the beginning.

    Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.

    But this is not the end.

    For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.

  • Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys dystopian lit, or who likes The Handmaid's Tale on Hulu - this reminded me of what life could have been like pre-Handmaid's Tale (same type of world).
    • Favorite paragraph: I stood in my kitchen, wanting to explain, careful not to, while he told me we'd marched one too many times, written one too many letters, screamed one too many words.

      "You women. You need to be taught a lesson," he said, and hung up.

      I didn't call her again to ask how they had silenced her, whether they had stormed into her practice or whether they had invaded her kitchen, if they had loaded her into a van along with her daughters and spelled out the future inside a dim gray room before fixing shiny wristbands on each of them and sending them home to cook and clean and be supportive Pure Women. To learn our lesson.
      • Something to know: I do think that the author borrowed a bit from Handmaid's Tale - LGBTQ women end up in work camps (same as on the show) and women that misbehave or engage in sex before they are married (or, if they cheat on their husbands) are sent to them as well. The story is also extremely timely for our current political atmosphere and administration.
      • What I would have changed: The beginning of the story was very interesting, but then it focuses more on the affair that Jean had with a work colleague, especially when she and him are on the same team for a project that they are helping the president with.
      • Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
      • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon.
      *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

      Tuesday, October 23, 2018

      Quick Pick book review: My Favorite Half-Night Stand, by Christina Lauren

      • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Christina Lauren fan, and it sounded super cute.
      • And what's this book about?
      • From the New York Times bestselling author that “hilariously depicts modern dating” (Us Weekly) comes a sexy romantic comedy about online dating, and its many, many fails.

        With a world-famous speaker at their university, Millie Morris and her four woefully single male colleagues make a pact that they’ll all find dates. Unfortunately, Millie has more success helping them make matches online than she does navigating the onslaught of lewd pics in her own feed. But when she creates a fictional name for a new account, Millie finds herself vying for the online attention of a man she sees every day in the flesh.

      • Recommended for: Anyone who likes chick lit, or who has navigated online dating before.
        • Favorite paragraph: I'm the kind of tipsy where I should want to hug everyone, not pull my best friend's pants down. 

          GAH. 

          Strictly platonic best guy friend. Strictly platonic best guy friend.

          Heat rushes to my face and I stand so quickly my chair teeters on its back legs. Four sets of curious eyes swing in my direction, and I turn, making a beeline for the bathroom.
          • Something to know: You'll probably figure out the HEA before you get to the end of the book, but it was still enjoyable to read.
          • What I would have changed: Nothing.
          • Overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
          • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase on Amazon - this book will be in stores and online on December 4, 2018.
          *Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

          Saturday, October 13, 2018

          Book Review and GIVEAWAY: When We Were Worthy, by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen {ends 10/20}

          Guest review by: Erin Krajenke

          "I don't know you anymore," he'd said, standing in the den of their trailer, their two bodies nearly filling the whole room..."I haven't really known you since we came here." "You haven't known me?" she spat. "How about you're gone all the time now? How about I can't remember the last time we said more than two sentences to each other? How about I don't know you anymore?" He looked at her with flat, dead eyes. "So I guess that's why you went after some kid? Some good-looking kid who showed you some attention? Because you were desperate for it? ...My father warned me you were too young for me. He told he that the age difference was too great, that you'd have other interests, need different things." He gave a cynical laugh. "I just didn't think your interests and needs would be teenage boys." He thought about it for a moment. "Course, I guess he's no younger to you than you are to me. Right?" "It's not like that, Clay!" she protested. "You've got it all wrong! Please! I need you of all people to believe me. I know the way it looks - I do - but if you'll give me time, I'll prove that I didn't do what they're saying."

          …"I'm sorry for what they did to you," Leah said. Ava blinked. "What who did to me?" she asked, even though she suspected she knew the answer..."Everyone thinks those boys are so good. But they're bad…and we know, don't we? ...We're the only ones who do."...She had to know what Leah knew. And it wasn't likely Leah wasn’t going to tell her on her own. She retrieved her phone from her purse and sat down on the couch to enter the number. There was a missed call, and she hoped for a fleeting moment that perhaps Clay had called. But it was the guy from the other night, a text saying he's enjoyed meeting her, and while things hadn't worked out that night, perhaps they could see each other? Some part of her nearly texted back, the same part that had caused her to respond to Ian's tactics. The same part that had let him get close enough to her to ruin her life. Because when a guy showed her attention, she felt seen, known, loved, appreciated. She let them give her what she didn't have herself, as if the only way that validation could be obtained was if someone else - someone male - provided it.


          There were a lot of characters right off the bat in this novel, in addition to alternating chapters told from four characters point of view. I found myself having to take notes as to who was who in order to follow along, which pulled me out of the story and left me wondering what was going on and questioning the premise. I usually enjoy shorter chapters, but since the chapters were not long enough, I was unable to get a feel for the character before the next chapter started. I also had a hard time with keeping the timeline straight in the beginning since it would jump from before and after the accident, but not list it as such in the chapter heading, so I was lost on the progression of the characters and was left wondering the point of the story.

          Official synopsis:
          Book Review and GIVEAWAY: When We Were Worthy, by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen
          “Evoking Emmy limited-series winner Big Little Lies, Whalen’s novel is about a Georgia town ripped apart when an outcast boy kills three cheerleaders in a car accident, bringing secrets and simmering tensions to the surface.” —The Hollywood Reporter

          When the sound of sirens cuts through a cool fall night, the small town of Worthy, Georgia, hurtles from triumph to tragedy. Just hours before, they'd watched the Wildcats score a winning touchdown. Now, they're faced with the deaths of three cheerleaders - their promising lives cut short in a fatal crash. And the boy in the other car - the only one to survive - is believed to be at fault. As rumors begin to fly and accusations spin, allegiances form and long-kept secrets emerge.

          At the center of the whirlwind are four women, each grappling with loss, regret, shame, and lies: Marglyn, a grieving mother; Darcy, whose son had been behind the wheel; Ava, a substitute teacher with a scandalous secret; and Leah, a cheerleader who should have been in the car with her friends, but wasn't. If the truth comes out, will it bring redemption - or will it be their downfall?


          It took until the very end to realize that the main theme involved Leah and Ava’s storylines. The subject of their narratives is very prevalent in today’s news and sheds light on how people can get wrapped up in a scandal (as a victim or a predator) and struggle with doing the right thing or being brave enough to say something. While the story itself took too long to get there and I felt as though the ending was wrapped up a bit too quickly (which was the part I thought deserved the most attention), I feel as though the subject matter is important, now more so than ever, and I believe books like this can bring this issue more visibility it justifiably needs.

          3 stars out of 5 (3.5 in reality due to the important subject matter).

          {click here to purchase}

          Erin Krajenke is a chatty Virgo who is still waiting for fall to show-up and is hoping we don't skip right to winter.

          GIVEAWAY:

          Two of my lucky readers will win a copy of When We Were Worthy!

          Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Saturday, October 20th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be contacted via email the next day and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

          U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

          Good luck!

          When We Were Worthy - 2 winners

          Thursday, October 11, 2018

          Book Review - Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles

          Guest review by: Becki Bayley

          Even now, with my teenage years so far behind me, sometimes I have to remind myself to shut my brain off, to tell it where to go. Sometimes I have to tear my eyes away from the mirror. Whenever I get depressed, it’s usually because something has been marinating inside me for a while, and the asshole side of my brain has had its way with it. I have to make a conscious effort to switch the kind, nurturing part of my brain to the forefront. I make it tell myself nice things. I make it tell me to just live, do the day-to-day, take things as they come, and not dwell too much on my faults…not an easy task for a writer who is used to examining and over-thinking things. But hey – is it any wonder so many writers are depressed? They’re sensitive, inside their own minds a lot, turning things over and trying to make sense of things. Sometimes I have to just not be a writer. To not analyze. To tune out shocking news headlines and celebrity gossip and politics and CSI and be blissfully ignorant to it all.

          I’ve made peace with myself now. I’m never really pleased with what I see in the mirror. But I don’t obsess (much). I don’t dwell (much). I don’t wake up at four anymore to get ready and I don’t tell myself I’m worthless.

          You’re not either. I promise.


          Life Inside My Mind (edited by Jessica Burkhart) consists of 31 powerful essays about authors’ personal struggles – with depression, anxiety and other similar issues around mental health for the authors or their loved ones. I really loved reading it, but I did have to break it up and read less heavy things in between.

          Official synopsis: 
          Book Review - Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles
          Your favorite YA authors including Ellen Hopkins, Maureen Johnson, and more recount their own experiences with mental illness in this raw, real, and powerful collection of essays that explores everything from ADD to PTSD.

          Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t get out of bed? Not the occasional morning, but every day? Do you find yourself listening to a voice in your head that says “you’re not good enough,” “not good looking enough,” “not thin enough,” or “not smart enough”? Have you ever found yourself unable to do homework or pay attention in class unless everything is “just so” on your desk? Everyone has had days like that, but what if you have them every day?

          You’re not alone. Millions of people are going through similar things. However issues around mental health still tend to be treated as something shrouded in shame or discussed in whispers. It’s easier to have a broken bone—something tangible that can be “fixed”—than to have a mental illness, and easier to have a discussion about sex than it is to have one about mental health.

          Life Inside My Mind is an anthology of true-life events from writers of this generation, for this generation. These essays tackle everything from neurodiversity to addiction to OCD to PTSD and much more. The goals of this book range from providing home to those who are feeling alone, awareness to those who are witnessing a friend or family member struggle, and to open the floodgates to conversation.

          Participating writers include E.K. Anderson, J.L. Armentrout, Cyn Balog, Amber Benson, Francesca Lia Block, Jessica Burkhart, Crissa Chappell, Sarah Fine, Kelly Fiore, Candace Ganger, Meghan Kelley Hall, Cynthia Hand, Ellen Hopkins, Maureen Johnson, Tara Kelly, Karen Mahoney, Melissa Marr, Kim McCreight, Hannah Moskowitz, Scott Neumyer, Lauren Oliver, Aprilynne Pike, Tom Pollack, Amy Reed, Cindy Rodriquez, Francisco Stork, Wendy Tolliver, Rob Wells, Dan Wells, Rachel Wilson, and Sara Zarr.


          If you’ve ever wondered what is going through someone’s head during a panic attack, or how someone continues functioning with depression or bipolar, these author’s stories may help you to understand. If you already know, finding out how someone else deals with it may give you hope and make you feel less alone. Given the subjects being discussed, there are plenty of triggers, so please think about that if it may influence your appreciation of the book.

          This was a beautiful and timely book. The stories are each as unique as the authors and their lives. What they all had in common was the message that you are not alone, and you are worth the effort to make it through your struggles. As the dedication reads, “May you find comfort and strength through the experiences shared in these pages.”

          Overall, I’d give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars. It’s not a book for everyone, and is only recommended for those ages 14 years and older.

          {click here to purchase}

          Becki Bayley loves Funyuns, Cherry Coke, and Chewy Sprees for fuel when writing, and comfort food when reading. You can find her at SweetlyBSquared.com.

          Monday, October 8, 2018

          Book Review - The Year of Living Awkwardly: Sophomore Year, by Emma Chastain

          Guest review by: Becki Bayley
          December 15

          I almost literally bumped into Grady today because we were both looking at our phones while turning a corner. His eyes flickered, and I could tell he was considering walking away without saying anything, but then he said, “Hey.”

          “Hey. How’s everything?”

          “Pretty good.”

          “How’s Bear?”

          “Fine. Really into Winnie-the-Pooh these days.”

          “That makes sense.” Blank look from Grady. “Because of his name. Bear…Winnie-the-Pooh is a bear…you know?” KILL ME.

          “Oh, yeah, right,” he said finally.

          “I guess I’m hanging out with your girlfriend tomorrow.”

          “Yeah, she mentioned that.”

          “OK, well…”

          “Yeah. See ya.”

          “See ya.”

          Neither of us smiled once during the entire conversation. If ‘conversation’ is even the right word.


          I can see why young adult fiction is so popular. It was easy and pleasant to be a little worried about Chloe’s struggles, since they were similar to struggles I overcame decades ago. The Year of Living Awkwardly: Sophomore Year by Emma Chastain was a great escape to read and smile over during a few stolen minutes from the busy fall.

          Official Synopsis: 
          Book Review - The Year of Living Awkwardly: Sophomore Year, by Emma Chastain
          It’s Chloe Snow’s sophomore year of high school, and life has only grown more complicated.

          Last year, Chloe was the star of the musical. This year, after an audition so disastrous she runs off the stage in tears, she’s cast as a lowly member of the ensemble. Will she be able to make it through the show knowing everyone’s either pitying her or reveling in her downfall?

          Chloe’s best friend, Hannah, is no help: she’s been sucked into the orbit of Reese, the velvet-gloved, iron-fisted ruler of the sophomore class. Chloe’s dad is busy falling in love with Miss Murphy, and Chloe is no longer speaking to her mother, who is sending her increasingly desperate and unhinged emails from Mexico. As her parents’ divorce negotiations unravel, a custody battle looms.

          If only Chloe could talk to Grady about it: his parents are divorced, and he’s easy to talk to. Or he was, until he declared his love for Chloe, and she turned him down because despite all her rational brain cells she can’t seem to get over Mac, and then Grady promptly started going out with Reese.

          As the performance of the show approaches, Chloe must find a way to navigate all the messy elements of her life and make it through to the end of the year.


          What a life! I have to admit, being several years (okay, a couple decades and then some) out of high school, I may have been more than a little amused by Chloe’s struggles. The diary style in which she told her story was very readable and relatable. It also made it a perfect book to just read for a few minutes, then deal with other things. I wasn’t left re-reading part of a chapter over and over if interrupted.

          The characters were also engaging. I would love to go back and find the book of her freshman year, so I can read a bit more of their history. The Year of Living Awkwardly is a great book – it’s a normal life with the good and the bad, told in a highly entertaining style.

          Overall, I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I don’t know that I’d read it again (since I know what happens), but I’m really glad I read it when I did.

          {click here to purchase}

          Becki Bayley is a mom to a girl who will be in high school in a few years. She hopes her daughter can roll with the punches as well as Chloe does in this book. You can find her at SweetlyBSquared.com.

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